Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dozens killed in fighting in southern Philippines

Relatives in Zamboanga City view Thursday, August 13, 2009 the caskets of soldiers killed in fierce clashes in Basilan province in the southern Philippines. And a photo released by the military shows Western Mindanao Command chief, Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, as he pins a medal to a wounded soldier while a regional navy chief, Admiral Alexander Pama looks on, at a military hospital in Zamboanga City. Fighting in Basilan province on Wednesday left 23 soldiers dead and 20 Abu Sayyaf militants and 19 more security men wounded. (Mindanao Examiner Photo).

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 13, 2009) – At least 43 soldiers and militants were killed in fierce clashes in the southern Filipino province of Basilan, where security forces stormed an Abu Sayyaf camp.

The fighting, which began Wednesday, also left more than a dozen soldiers wounded in the town of Ungkaya Pukan after security forces stormed an Abu Sayyaf camp in Silangkum village.

Soldiers recovered at least 10 bodies of slain militants and improvised explosives and high-powered weapons from the Abu Sayyaf camp, said First Lieutenant Steffani Cacho, a regional army spokeswoman.

She said troops were fighting the Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the spate of terrorism and kidnappings for ransom in Basilan and nearby city of Zamboanga.

Troops on Thursday continued their hunt for the militants in the hinterland villages of Baguindan and Silangkum in the town of Ungkaya Pukan where the fighting erupted.

Military sources in Basilan said 23 soldiers, including two army lieutenants, and 20 militants were killed in the daylong fighting. The cadavers of the soldiers were brought to the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

But Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is negotiating peace with Manila said troops also clashed with rebel forces in Baguindan village.

“Troops attacked MILF forces in the village and this triggered fierce clashes. Nine of our members and more than 20 government soldiers were killed in the fighting,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Kabalu said troops ambushed a group of rebels led by Asid Sali and a firefight ensued. “Commander Sali’s group was on their way to another MILF camp when troops ambushed them and that’s it,” he said.

“The Western Mindanao Command launched a decisive law enforcement operation targeting the Abu Sayyaf main training camp in the province. Recovered from the camp were sizeable quantities of IEDs rigged to explode while others were ready for use,” Cacho said, adding at least 13 high-powered firearms were also seized by soldiers in the militant’s base.

Cacho said the MILF was informed about the offensive operation against the Abu Sayyaf. “We have coordinated with the MILF and the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities to avoid clashes between rebels and troops in Basilan. Our operation targeted the Abu Sayyaf,” she said.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting the past three decades for self-determination. Rebels are actively operating in Basilan. (Mindanao Examiner)

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